13 shows to binge while you wait for ‘Unforgotten’ series 5
To date, the British crime drama Unforgotten has picked up multiple awards and enjoys a loyal fanbase with its mix of a highly likable cast and compelling structure.
The show started in 2015, with a six-part series that followed a London police unit’s investigation of a cold case after remains were found during a house demolition in North London. At the top of the team were DCI Cassie Stuart, played by Nicola Walker, and DI Sunny Khan, played by Sanjeev Bhaskar, partners with winning chemistry that had much to do with the show’s success over four seasons.
However, Unforgotten’s real selling point was in its structure. Each season introduced a new cold case and a set of apparently unrelated characters as Cassie and Sunny began their investigations. The show took its time to draw together these characters while uncovering the emotional consequences for those left behind.
The show isn’t over yet as Unforgotten is all set to return for a fifth season later in 2022. Creator Chris Lang will write all episodes again, but the show will have a different feel as with Cassie Stuart’s story complete, Sunny will be joined by Sinéad Keenan’s DCI Jessie James.
The first four seasons of the show are streaming on PBS Passport in the U.S and Britbox in the U.K. The show’s fifth year will undoubtedly serve up further doses of moral ambiguity and complex plots that never go the way we expect. But Unforgotten‘s fifth season is probably months away and it’s understandable that its fans are looking for an alternate source to put their amateur detective skills to the test. Thus, here is a carefully curated list of shows that will hopefully fill the gap.
Line of Duty (2012-2021)
Unforgotten was one of the few crime series to match Line of Duty’s popularity in recent years. Like Unforgotten, Line of Duty packed its cast out with excellent actors. If you’re interested in some intricate drama set in the ranks of the British police, you’ll find more than enough in these six seasons. But unlike Unforgotten, Line of Duties cases are very warm, with an intriguing conspiracy running through its six years.
A key innovation was introducing a new guest star each year, playing a police officer who falls under the watch of anti-corruption AC-12. The legendary interview sequences sometimes filled the best part of episodes and are maybe its most significant legacy. Most importantly, like Unforgotten, there’s a core team of characters at the heart of the drama, demanding you invest.
Waking the Dead (2000 – 2011)
This BBC classic ran for nine series from 2000, ending at its peak (if not a bit too early), having picked up international respect and an International Emmy Award. Centering on a fictional cold case unit in London, Waking the Dead followed a dedicated team comprising criminal investigators, a psychological profiler, and a forensic scientist through thick and thin.
Over its 46 two-part stories, it didn’t shy away from digging into dangerous and topical subjects, including fanaticism, organized crime, child abuse, war crimes, and racism. Some politically pointed episodes involving fraud and the Iraq war earned disclaimers when it was first broadcasted. Like Unforgotten, Walking the Dead’s well-drawn team was a crucial component. But this was a dysfunctional squad that fought through a decade of anger issues, injury, illness, and the death of a teammate. The lasting impact of their group trauma mirrored many of the cases they reopened.
Bones (2005 – 2017)
Bones is another procedural based around cold cases, but its popularity and long life were thanks to a strong dose of comedy. It ran for 246 episodes and twelve seasons, setting a record as the longest-running one-hour drama series produced by 20th Century Fox Television. As established by its success, it was brilliantly well cast as well.
At the center was David Boreanaz’s FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth and Emily Deschanel’s anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan — otherwise known as ‘Bones’. The show took its inspiration from the life and novels of forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, who was also a producer on the show. A brilliantly meta twist had Dr. Brennan write mystery novels featuring fictional forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs in the show.
Silent Witness (1996 – present)
This forensic pathology series has stacked up an incredible 24 seasons to become the longest-running crime series in the world. That’s some achievement considering it overcame a significant change in its lead cast during its eighth season that other series would have struggled to survive. Silent Witness has maintained consistent ratings thanks to its attention to detail and core characters, even if its scripts sometimes stretched realism (and dialogue).
Death in Paradise (2011 – present)
Another BBC smash hit, this time balancing some familiar ideas. Death in Paradise combines its classic fish-out-of-water concept with the beautiful scenery of the Caribbean (on a fictional island named Saint Marie) and a strong dash of Agatha Christie. Much of its comedy comes from its mishmashed cast, particularly the endless conveyor belt of socially hapless police inspectors. But don’t think that means the mystery at the center of each story will be any less intriguing or the murders any less gruesome.
Cold Case (2003 – 2010)
The title that defines most shows on this list. Running on CBS between 2003 and 2010, this procedural was set at a fictional Philadelphia Police Department division headed by Kathryn Morris’s Detective Lilly Rush. Episodes usually followed a single investigation, although the cases spanned across the 20th century. One of the show’s innovations was double-casting its characters, so witnesses and investigators often appeared in flashbacks.
The end of each episode would usually show the murder in flashback, although this show wasn’t afraid to twist its twist. Like all good series on this list, Cold Case used its historical reach to explore critical issues, including homophobia, racism, abortion, and police brutality. It even took inspiration from real-life events for some of its plotlines.
If Nicola Walker was a key draw in Unforgotten (and we can’t blame you), you’ll appreciate her cryptic turn in this short-lived police drama. Stellan Skarsgård’s charismatic turn as the guilt-ridden DI of the title holds the screen, even if he’s struggling to hang on to his job in the Metropolitan Police Service. At least he has his trusty partner, Walker, to keep him on the straight and narrow. The twist is that she’s not quite who she appears. A chilling police procedural and a mesmerizing study in tragedy, obsession, and grief. Above anything else, River is all about humanity.
Mare of Easttown (2021)
This Emmy nominated HBO series was a revelation during the pandemic, mostly thanks to Kate Winslet’s turn as the titular detective Mare. Over seven episodes, Mare investigates the murder of a teen mother and the disappearance of other teenagers that may or may not be connected, as she is drawn to a newly arrived author played by Guy Pearce. While the first season pretty much wrapped up its storyline, it’s hoped that a new season will be commissioned soon to take us on another round of grisly crimes solved by Mare’s exceptional sleuthing skills.
Strike (2017 – present)
If you’re missing the mystery, a dip into Robert Galbraith’s (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) detective adaptations may be the answer. The relationship between Cormoran Strike and his able assistant-cum-business partner Robin Ellacott is more acidic than Sunil and Cassie’s in Unforgotten. Still, their investigations offer a similar mix of case-cracking and gently intrusive personal drama.
Strike is sometimes too on the nose, from Cormoran’s war veteran turned private detective skills to his unlikely office on London’s Denmark Street. But Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger’s fantastic chemistry holds it all together.
Luther (2010 – present)
Idris Elba’s turn as John Luther, a maverick detective in London’s Serious Crimes Unit, was bold and brash when it arrived on screens in 2021. That fire never dimmed, and its five seasons will be joined by a spin-off movie soon. Luther is an unpredictable crime show and another brilliant addition to this list that makes the most of its talented cast.
Marcella (2016 – present)
Hans Rosenfeldt followed up The Bridge by bringing a dash of Nordic Noir to London. Anna Friel is captivating as Detective Sergeant Marcella Backland, a maverick, called back to solve cold cases against a backdrop of personal issues. In this compelling series, marriage troubles, memory blackouts, grief, and more provide the backdrop to the investigation.
Broadchurch (2013 – 2017)
Remade as the short-lived Gracepoint in the U.S., the British original had the edge, at least for its first season. In that thrilling eight-part drama, Olivia Colman’s DS Ellie Miller and David Tennant’s DI Alec Hardy investigated the death of a child in the English coastal town of Broadchurch, with far-reaching consequences that would reach through subsequent seasons. Sadly the second and third years that dealt with the repercussions while pulling in other investigations couldn’t recapture the magic no matter how watchable Colman and Tenant were.
The Split (2018 – present)
You’re a firm fan of Nicola Walker, then after Unforgotten and River, you may want to try this legal drama. This time, Walker plays Hannah Defoe, a lawyer who’s broken from her family’s firm of divorce lawyers until the first season’s events bring them back together. It serves a heady combination of infidelity, sibling rivalry, and law, penned by Abi Morgan, who had previously provided Walker with one of her most unusual roles in River. A third season is confirmed to air soon.
So, until the fifth season of Unforgotten finally graces our TV screens, you have plenty of amazing choices to pick from to keep yourself busy.